When the Mates of State’s publicist brings me to their tent and I am introduced to drummer Jason Hammel, it suddenly dawns on me that I had seen the band perform a year before in a tiny venue in Niagara Falls, NY. They were the opening slot for the Strokes and I distinctly remember three things about the band as Jason and I wait for Kori, lead vocalist and vox player, to begin the interview. One, I enjoyed their brand of sunshine pop very much but would have rather listened to it while stoned and reading in the park rather than as an opener for New York’s then “IT” future sons. Secondly, the lead singer was extremely pregnant. Lastly, the two-piece summoned vocal heckles from the largely underage crowd comparing them to a more popular duo out of Detroit. When a frat boy next to me belligerently inquired during a silent pause in between songs if the two band mates were sister and brother, Kori looked into the crowd at her nameless assailant and with disdain muttered, “Oh yeah, how cute; that’s original.” Now over a year later I find myself shaking hands with Jason, waiting for his wife (not sister, or ex-wife, or drumming ex-wife) as I munch on carrots and celery from their complimentary veggie spread.
When Kori does arrive she is gracious and apologetic, as she and Jason flank me while we sit in the shade a couple hours before they play their headlining gig on the Stillwell stage at the Siren Music Festival in Coney Island.
Mates of State’s story is a bit more unorthodox than most that of most bands. When they met in Lawrence, Kansas, they were each studying at the University of Kansas and combined had played in more than 20 bands. It was after Jason, as a fan, saw a gig by one of Kori’s bands that they would meet. They hit it off and Mates of States formed in 1997, as they decided to try their hand at a two-piece pop incarnation. They toured like maniacs for a few years and it was in 2001(when they each quit their jobs as a teacher and cancer researcher, respectively) that they wed and made MOS their sole focus. Since then they have released a few full lengths and some critically heralded EP’s worth of material, recorded a DVD of concert and tour footage, and have recently become new parents. I am curious what it’s like working, writing music, and touring with your musically-gifted spouse, as opposed to, say, placating Linda with the microphone during those ugly years of Wings.
“I really don’t know or remember anything else,” replies Kori. “Working in a band with your husband creates different types of conflict but it’s nothing like arguing about who is going to take out the trash. We had been playing in different bands since we were in eighth grade, so we scrapped the stuff we had been doing and begun new with this band.”
I explain that I am a very easygoing and somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to love. I understand that a wedding is a big day in any man’s life, but it is the biggest day in the life of most women. I plan on letting my wife have every detail to her liking, the arrangements exactly as she envisioned them as a little girl. But with the wedding song I would have ultimate veto power, if not absolute authority. They laugh at this as I ask them their wedding song.
Jason says, “Well the whole wedding was musically themed. We listened to a lot of stuff. There was some Cat Stevens, and Kori walked out to a Cat Power song.” I stop them in excitement when they tell me that they danced to Pinback’s “Loro”. “We have always loved that song; it’s just so beautiful. The guys [from Pinback] got a kick out of that.”
As for the White Stripe heckles, they appreciate the rock band’s work and stripped-down style, but they are each very quick to point out that very few similarities exist between the bands other than having a male-female two piece. “I am just glad that we didn’t come out ten years ago,” says Jason shaking his head. “The thing is I believe it is impossible for any two-piece band to sound like any other two-piece. A four-piece band with guitars, bass, and drums can go in almost any direction. Jack and Meg paved the way, but it’s just a time when we were given a shot for one reason or another and were embraced.”
Spoon’s drummer Jim Eno (his band co-headlining the festival this evening) worked behind the boards on the bands last full length, Team Boo. The relationship between MOS grew out of the flourishing Austin music scene and all parties involved enjoyed working together. Now, after years touring the US as well as Europe, the band has an 8:30 slot to play a free gig before thousands in America’s most storied theme park. Kori and Jason have been road warriors the past few years, living by the motto “Play anywhere, anytime.” Though the band still remains a two-piece, the Gardner- Hammel clan has just added a member.
“We love touring,” says Kori with a deep breath, “but to be honest we are sick of touring. I mean we have our baby on tour with us. It kind of complicates things,” she says, smiling like a woman who has everything she wants. And who can blame her? Here she sits talking about music she loves, next to the man she adores, and thinking about a baby waiting for her that undoubtedly has very cool parents. Seems like these mates are in a state of bliss.